Belfast Telegraph

Bring it on: O'Neill sounds Euro play-off battle cry

 

Big stage: Steven Davis leads out Craig Cathcart and Josh Magennis, who win their 50th caps tonight, at training in Frankfurt last night
Big stage: Steven Davis leads out Craig Cathcart and Josh Magennis, who win their 50th caps tonight, at training in Frankfurt last night
Michael O'Neill
Ruled out: Jamal Lewis

By Paul Ferguson in Frankfurt

Determined Michael O'Neill is adamant Northern Ireland will be fully primed for a Euro 2020 play-off push next March after coming through an arduous final qualifying series against European heavyweights, the Netherlands and Germany, with a great deal of credit.

O'Neill's men conclude their Euro campaign in Frankfurt this evening against four-time World champions Germany (7.45pm), already assured of their semi-final play-off spot, which is a one-legged tie before a final, with the winner earning a ticket to the Championships, three days later.

His hopes could be improved with a home clash if Hungary avoid defeat against Wales in Cardiff this evening to qualify automatically. Northern Ireland would then look set for a Windsor Park play-off match while, if the Welsh are victorious, O'Neill and his side would likely face a trip to Bosnia again. The exact venues for the play-offs will be confirmed at Friday's Uefa draw in Nyon.

O'Neill, who has stressed that he will be in charge for the play-offs despite taking over as boss of Stoke City, believes his side will be battle hardened and ready for any opponent, home or away, after trading blows with the Germans and Dutch this autumn.

"We'll not be thinking too much about Wales and Hungary," O'Neill said in Frankfurt last night.

"These things are out of your control. We'll be too busy with what's going to happen out there on the pitch against Germany to be worried about what's happening in Cardiff.

"Ideally, though, if your first play-off game was a home game, that's certainly an advantage, but for us it's about the level of performance, replicating that.

"You come into these scenarios, home to Holland, away to Germany… is there a more difficult double-header you could have? Having come through these two games, we'll be ready to play a double-header, regardless of the situation come March."

O'Neill will be without defender Jamal Lewis tonight and Jonny Evans is a doubt due to illness.

Stuart Dallas, who is expected to play at left-back, didn't train last night but was only kept back as a precaution.

Lewis injured his knee during Saturday's match against the Netherlands and has returned to his club Norwich City.

O'Neill said: "The rest of the squad are fine, we just have to monitor Jonny. He's had a little bit of illness, so we need to keep an eye on that.

"Jamal was ruled out yesterday morning and apart from that, everyone's fine. We had no further injuries from the other night.

"One or two with a few little niggles, so they sat out training. But we anticipate they will be fit for the game."

• Northern Ireland's Under-19s were hit by an agonising last-minute equaliser as they drew with their German counterparts 1-1 at Mourneview Park in a friendly last night.

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